The Potency of Age on Wine and Cheese
I'm munching a Trader Joe's cheddar CheeseStick and reading Eric Asimov's article on The Pour (NYT) about tasting 18 Bordeauxs from the magic year of 1982; made so by the perfect storm of Robert Parker's enthusiasm for the vintage, a new parched public eager to learn about wine, and changes in Bordeaux economics that would sweep away sleepy local wine production in France...or so I have recently read!
The wines are 30 years old, and according to those who know, a club you can tell I am not a member of, they are now "in their prime." They have been stashed in a collector's wine cellar, enriching their "opulence" and gaining in value and fame.
I can't help but think that this is like, but not like, cheese. To start with I've never had the word opulent pop into my head when tasting a "big" cheese. Lingering, startling, powerful, and stinky, of course. But opulent doesn't really fit my cheese taste. Maybe it's because cheese is food/sustenance at its core, and opulence is reserved for over-the-top luxury? Secondly, absolutely no one "collects" cheese. If you did...well, unless you're an affineur aging it for consumption at peak, you'd probably bring the neighborhood sniff patrol down upon your head. Thirdly, was there ever a magic year of cheese perfection? And lastly, 30 years is just too long, despite urban legends of cheeses from the crypts.
But the similarity is there. There's also unbridled excitement at tasting the perfect cheese at its finest moment. Despite 10 minutes, months, or years it changes character -- look at the journey a pecorino can take. Then, there's that vast, global vocabulary. And finally there's the fact that you can consume something made by SOMEBODY's hand even after they're gone. Last night I made pizza onto which I grated a mountain of Vella Dry Jack that was made under the watchful eye of master Ig himself, who passed away last June. I have had a massive chunk of Special Select, with its characteristic central divet, sitting in my cheese drawer for 9 months. From Ig's hand to my table.
I guess that's what gives wines their mystery too. Cheers to the vitners and cheese makers who send their babies to the cellar.